Satyajit Ray is often considered one of the first Indian filmmakers to break free of the conventions of the Bollywood musical, the popularly known Indian cinema of the time. Influenced by Italian neorealism, Ray’s debut feature Pather Panchali opened wide the doors to the world stage for Ray and future great Indian films that would follow. The first in his Apu trilogy, featuring the young main character Apu and his trials and journeys in life, Pather Panchali would prove to be remarkably influential and well-received upon its worldwide debut.
Filmed on a shoestring budget, the film often shows its limited production value, but once one knows this and is able to accept it, it becomes a passing quality one is easily able to overlook. What the film does have in large quantities, almost disproportionate to the film itself, is charm; the film, without doing much of anything, easily wins you over, thanks in large part to the traditional musical score and charming characters. Indeed, much of the film is just the characters living their lives, not really advancing the plot in any direction, and for some strange reason it couldn’t be more endearing.
When bigger things do happen, they feel bigger; the film has a great sense of scale, even if it doesn’t fully utilize the breadth of it throughout the whole film and spends most of its time sashaying about. Regardless, I still found the film highly entertaining, even with the tragic events that unfold in the film’s closing act. This is a film that will make you feel, in both positive and negative ways, and really, that’s all we can ask out of the films that we watch; that they make us feel, and entertain us, and Pather Panchali succeeds despite its simplistic structure and composition. If you didn’t mind the Italian neorealist releases and don’t mind subtitles much either, this is certainly one to check out and see if it will win you over as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10